Sunday, October 17, 2010

Packers vs. Dolphins Preview

The Miami Dolphins pay a visit to Lambeau Field today to meet the Green Bay Packers. The Fish are 2-2, the Pack 3-2. Believe it or not, the Dolphins lead the all-time series 9-3. But today, the Packers are listed as 3-1/2 point favorites, basically as a result of the home field advantage.

The Dolphins come in healthy and off their bye week. The NFL schedulers really dropped a gift in their laps by having them visit Green Bay on a balmy 60-degree mid-October day. (Gee, couldn't it have been in mid-December? What's a couple months among friends, right?)

But the Pack, as the entire football world is aware, has...oh...just a few injury issues to deal with. On both sides of the ball. And that will undoubtedly affect the game. A few players on defense that could perhaps play -- e.g., Clay Matthews and Ryan Pickett -- probably won't. This is a non-division, non-conference game. It won't figure in most tiebreaker situations. Not that you don't always want to get the "W". But when do you want Matthews and others available? For the Fish? Or next weekend versus the ViQueens? Please. Let's get 'em as healthy as possible for the game against the 'Queens.

While it's not final until gametime, QB Aaron Rodgers is expected to get the OK to play. That's a big plus for the offense, although the game plan likely won't feature the emphasis on the play of the tight ends quite as much with the loss of Jermichael Finley and, possibly for this game, Donald Lee, although he's listed as "probable" on the injury list. The wide receivers will need to do a much better job than they did against Washington, where they had seven dropped passes. On the line, rookie Bryan Bulaga will once again get the start at right tackle in place of an ailing Mark Tauscher.

And the running game? Wha-a-a...??? The Pack has a running game? Yes, it just hasn't been counted on much this season -- especially after the first-game loss of Ryan Grant -- so no reason to expect that to change now. As a matter of fact, there's a good article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about head coach Mike McCarthy's commitment, or lack thereof, to the running game. Great insights into the coach's mindset, using his own words to have a look inside, so to speak.

As for the Packers' defense, that's where the injuries will show up against a capable Fish offense. The absence of Matthews, Pickett, Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett (who is done for the season) leave the Pack with basically its second unit linebacking corps and perhaps even rookie C. J. Wilson starting on the line for the still-injured Mike Neal. The Fish have a two-headed running attack with Ronnie Brown and Rickie "One Toke Over the Line" Williams. The primary receiving threat is Brandon Marshall, who is a good one. Starting QB Chad Henne has a strong arm but is a bit cumbersome in the pocket and, in only his second season as a starting QB, still locks onto receivers a bit too often. If the Packers could generate any pash rush today they could create some turnovers. But against a very good offensive line, and with the Pack's best pass rushers out, that type of rush doesn't seem very likely.

The Dolphins got beat 41-14 in their game versus New England the week before their bye. Thirty-five of the Patriots' points came in the second half. Hmmm...considering that the Packers seem to have a second-half drop off in most games so far this season, that certainly doesn't mean much.

Given that the Packers' special teams are yet again in flux because of the injuries to key players and the movement of some special teams players into those starting or key back up roles, don't count on much out of this unit today. But again, we haven't really counted on much from them most of the season. So anything we get in the way of returns from Tramon Williams, Jordy Nelson or whomever the coaches decide to throw back there today is a bonus. On the flip side, it's possible coverage units could give up big yardage because of the new mix of players.

Could the Pack rise to the occasion, kind of like a wounded rogue elephant, and pull out a victory at home today? It's possible. But I think the injury situation for the Packers just might be too much to overcome. The Packers have lost -- given away -- two games they should have won. Here's a game today that, by all counts, they should probably lose.

This game is one of those toss-up games for me. My head says the Fish will swim out of Lambeau with a victory because of the state of the triage unit known as the Packers. My heart, of course, bleeds Green 'n' Gold and says somehow, someway, the Pack will get a much-needed "W". This is one time when a score prediction eludes me. It's much more basic than that.

Go Pack Go!!!